Generally, a man’s transformation from slave of the microwave to king of the cassoulet follows the same upward arc as his taste in music, clothing, and women. And no matter where you find yourself on said trajectory, you need a good knife. Take it from Norman Weinstein, cutlery demigod and author of Mastering Knife Skills: “If you get only one knife,” he says, “get a chef’s knife.” And while eight-inch versions are more common, Weinstein recommends the full 10-incher. As he says, “in every 10” chef’s knife there lives an 8” chef’s knife.” Hard to quibble with that math.
There’s a reason only one knife gets the moniker “chef.” It’s a master of versatility. The style is distinguished from its civilian cousins in part by the ample knuckle clearance of the handle and the gentle overall curve of the blade—called the camber—which make it easier to chop with a consistent, rocking motion (hacking is best left to butchers). Another key factor is heft. The heavier it is, the less work you have to do. When buying a chef’s knife, also look for balance. To test, place the bolster of the knife (the area between the handle and the blade) on your middle and index fingers—it should perch there perfectly. Also, make sure your knife is forged—not stamped—from steel: a forged blade is stronger, and will keep its edge better than a stamped one ever can. As your mother probably told you, a sharp blade is much safer than a blunt one, unless you’re the kind of guy who can’t cut a tomato without slicing himself. If that’s you, save the knife for breaking down take-out pizza boxes, and be happy it makes you’re kitchen look convincing.